Georgian Parliament Passes ‘foreign agents’ Bill Amid Scuffles

14th May 2024

Georgian politicians have brawled in parliament ahead of passing a bill on “foreign agents”.

Punches were thrown on Tuesday ahead of the third and final reading of the controversial legislation.

The ruling party’s push for the bill has plunged the South Caucasian country into an extended political crisis and caused mass protests.

Georgia television broadcast scuffles between MPs from the ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition lawmakers during the debate.

The bill requires media and NGOs to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 per cent of their funding from abroad.

It is seen by many as influenced by similar legislation in Russia that has been used to clamp down on Kremlin’s political opponents.

Critics insist it poses a threat to democratic freedom and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union.

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Georgian Dream party was forced by mass protests to withdraw the bill last year.

The revised effort to push the legislation through has provoked huge demonstrations.

President Salome Zourabichvili has said that she would veto the bill, but the parliament can override her.

The government says that the bill is needed to promote transparency, combat “pseudo-liberal values” promoted by foreigners, and preserve Georgia’s sovereignty.

Critics claim the ruling party is seeking to pull the country away from its European aspirations and back towards Moscow.

About 1,000 protesters picketed the fortress-like parliament building as the debate got underway on Tuesday.

A major police presence, with water cannon idling, was deployed nearby.

Demonstrations have been running for weeks, peaking in the evening, when crowds numbering tens of thousands have mounted some of the biggest protests seen in Georgia since it regained independence from Moscow in 1991.

The European Union, which gave Georgia candidate status in December, has repeatedly said that the bill would be a barrier to Tbilisi’s further integration with the bloc.

European Council President, Charles Michel, said on Tuesday that “if they want to join the EU, they have to respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and the democratic principles”.

Georgian Dream insists that it still has ambitions of joining both the EU and NATO, even as it has adopted harsh anti-Western rhetoric in recent months.

Polls show Georgian public opinion is strongly supportive of EU integration, while many Georgians are hostile to Russia over Moscow’s support for the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The United States, Britain, Germany, Italy and France have all urged Georgia to withdraw the bill.

Kremlin, which denies any role in inspiring the Georgian bill, said on Tuesday that the crisis was Tbilisi’s internal affair and accused outside powers of meddling.

“We see an unveiled intervention in the internal affairs of Georgia from the outside,” Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said, adding “This is an internal matter of Georgia, we do not want to interfere there in any way.”